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Canada19 December 2001

The anti-terrorism law threatens press freedom

Update - 19 December 2001

Antiterrorist bill comes into force

The 18 December, General Governor of Canada Adrienne Clarkson promulgated the C-36 Bill, a few hours after the Senate had voted it. The House of Commons had already approved it by the end of November.

December 12 2001

image 130 x 149 (JPEG) In a letter sent to the Canadian senators, Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders, RSF ) has asked them not to pass several articles contained in anti-terrorist Bill C-36, passed last November 28th by the House of Commons. "This bill includes numerous articles that are dangerous for the protection of sources," stresses Robert Ménard, RSF’s secretary-general. "Moreover, the news that can be sanctioned if circulated with life imprisonment is especially poorly defined. Certain kinds of news even reach into the public-interest sector. The legitimacy of the fight against terrorism cannot lead you to jeopardising freedom of the press. It is a genuine pillar of Canadian society."

According to information gathered by RSF, anti-terrorism Bill C-36 was approved on November 28th, 2001 by the House of Commons. It modifies several existing laws, including the Criminal Code, the Official Secrets Act and the National Defence Act. And several articles in this bill cast the protection of sources into doubt. One modification of the National Defence Act enables the Minister of the Defence to authorise the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) to intercept private communications between Canada and other countries with a view to obtaining information relating to "international affairs, defence or security" (Part V.1, "Communications Security Establishment"). The confidentiality of communications between journalists and their foreign contacts is no longer guaranteed.

The new bill also enables the government to require a person for whom there are "reasonable grounds to believe that he/she has direct and material information that relates to a terrorism offence " to be summoned by a judge to divulge this information. Anyone refusing to respond to the judge’s summons or to answer his/her questions may be imprisoned for up to one year (Part II.1, "Terrorism", articles 83.28 and 83.29).

The Official Secrets Act, renamed the Security of Information Act, will henceforth punish to "imprisonment for life" the supplying of sensitive information "to any foreign entity or terrorist group". According to article 16, the information concerned is that "about which the federal government or a provincial government takes protective measures", without any further detail. Article 17 approves the disclosure of "special operational information", including information of public interest such as the "vulnerabilities or limitations" of the policy of information implemented by the federal government.

The Senate is to vote on Bill C-36 before the end of December. The draft law submitted on October 15th, 2001 under the name of "the antiterrorist law" by the minister of Justice, Anne McLellan, received 190 votes for and 47 against on November 28th in the House of Commons.



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